Tag Archives: Sophisticated ladies

TSU’s Grammy-award winning Aristocrat of Bands makes historic performance at the Grand Ole Opry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s Grammy-award winning Aristocrat of Bands marched through the doors of the Grand Ole Opry with Tiger spirit for their historic debut in front of thousands.

TSU’s Grammy-award winning Aristocrat of Bands debut at the Grand Ole Opry April 4, 2023. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

Fondly referred to as AOB, the band has had many firsts, with appearances across country at several iconic venues.

Now, the trailblazing band can add to its list of ‘first to do it’ following their debut at the Grand Ole Opry on April 4.

“Being at Opry tonight as an HBCU band … this opportunity is breathtaking,” said AOB’s director Dr. Reginald McDonald. “To be a band of firsts, we are excited. This is another opportunity for our students to learn beyond the classroom.”

TSU Sophisticated Ladies debut at the Grand Ole Opry. (Photo by Jenai Hayes)

There were about 80 band members and five Sophisticated Ladies that participated in the 12-minute performance.

“It feels so good to be here,” said Joshua Knox, an AOB drum major from Detroit, Michigan. “Being able to perform at this historic stage makes everything so great being here with my fellow band members.”

AOB performed two songs off their Grammy-award winning album The Urban Hymnal. The band performed Dance Revival and Blessings on Blessings with soulful sounds from the Grammy-award winning duo Louis York, who is featured on the song, along with TSU alumna Ashley “FluteBae” Crawford.

Joshua Knox

TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands is the first collegiate marching band to win a Grammy, the music industry’s highest honor for Best Roots Gospel Album.

Aimee Rollins, a freshman from Atlanta who plays the clarinet, said the overall experience was another one for the books.
“Every time we perform it is a great time,” Rollins said, noting that the crowd’s energy was lively. “When they come and experience something new, introducing them to a new world of music they didn’t know about before .. with a lot of TSU people in the crowd hyping us up, I really did appreciate it.”

Aimee Rollins

Louis York singer and music producer Claude Kelly, described the experience of performing with AOB at the Grand Ole Opry as ‘next level history.’

Check out the Aristocrat of Bands debut at the Grand Ole Opry here. Listen to The Urban Hymnal album on all music streaming platforms such as Apple Music, YouTube, and or Spotify.

Road to the Grammys: TSU freshman says one call changed the trajectory of her life 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Freshman Me’Kayla Smith’s life changed instantly when she decided to attend Tennessee State University. Smith was initially forgoing college to focus on her budding singing career after experiencing the difficulties of juggling high school academics during the pandemic. However, a phone call from TSU alumnus Sir The Baptist, a two-time Grammy award-nominated songwriter and artist, changed everything.

Me’Kayla Smith

Smith is a part of the Grammy-nominated, groundbreaking gospel album The Urban Hymnal by TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands. Fondly called AOB, they are the first collegiate band in the history of the Grammys to receive a nomination. 

“It just shows you that life can change for anyone at any moment,” said Smith.  “A lot of opportunities that are afforded, we don’t know the magnitude of it. TSU was something I did not know I needed. And now I’m singing on a Grammy-nominated album.”

Smith’s captivating voice can be heard on the chorus of the song titled ‘Alright,’ on the10-track album featuring trailblazers within the gospel music industry.

Smith has been singing in church choirs since she was a child. When she turned 7 years old, she realized singing was more than just a hobby.

Me’Kayla sings with New Direction Choir during TSU 2022 gospel explosion.

“Singing is the way that I breathe,” added Smith. “One of the reasons I was created is to sing. I sing because it’s a part of what makes me who I am.  It’s a form of how I connect with the Lord.”

Smith’s road to the Grammys began summer 2022, when Sir The Baptist reached out to her on social media and followed up with a call about attending TSU and being a part of the album. The soprano says she was honored, and the decision was a no-brainer.

“My stepfather has a studio downstairs. I recorded it right then and there at home … and the rest was history,” she says.

Despite her reservations about attending college, she knew furthering her education and career as an artist at the university was a great decision. Smith, who is a business major, had an active first semester as she is a Sophisticated Lady, a member of the New Direction Choir and AOB.

Sophisticated Lady, Me’Kayla Smith during a 2022 TSU parade.

The song ‘Alright’ supports everything Smith believes in, she says, as the record gives her a sense of hope. “It’s an encouraging piece for anyone who need some uplifting … it is innovative, full of creativity, and it feels like home.”

Smith says she wasn’t surprised when the Grammy nomination was announced as she knew the quality of the album and its originality was bound to go far.

The Urban Hymnal is one of five nominated in the Best Roots Gospel Album category. Smith looks forward to the band bringing the trophy back to Tennessee and being recognized as the first collegiate band in history to earn a Grammy. The Grammys will take place on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. 

Listen to The Urban Hymnal album on music streaming platforms such as Apple Music, YouTube, and or Spotify.

AOB, New Direction Gospel Choir perform at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture; band set to release gospel album

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s world-renowned Aristocrat of Bands (AOB) and award-winning New Direction Gospel Choir were invited to perform at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans, Louisiana, sponsored by a partnership with McDonalds, highlighting African American culture.

Grammy nominated gospel singer Jekayln Carr and TSU New Direction Gospel Choir performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture. (Photo: Jenai Hayes)

AOB, New Direction Gospel Choir and The Sophisticated Ladies led three spectacular performances during the festival, one of which the University band debuted their new single “Dance Revival” featuring Grammy nominated gospel singer Jekayln Carr and the choir.

There were more than 1,000 festival participants in total watching the magic unfold.

AOB debuts their new single ‘Dance Revival,’ at the Essence Festival and are set to release a gospel album titled ‘Urban Hymnal.’ (Photo: submitted)

“Having an opportunity to premiere our original music at the Essence Festival is monumental for the AOB as well as the HBCU Band community at large,” said Dr. Larry Jenkins the Assistant Director of TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands.

Reginald McDonald, AOB director said the band will be seen in more unimaginable places.

TSU drum major, trumpet soloist Curtis Olawumi said his first time in New Orleans was a once in a lifetime experience as he met and spoke with his favorite trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, when leaving rehearsal.

Actress Tisha Campbell watched AOB and The Sophisticated Ladies rehearse behind the scene at Essence Fest 2022.

“That was the pivotal moment for me,” Olawumi said, noting that the pair talked about music and took photos. “Being able to perform on stage next to Jekayln Carr was a thrill,” he said. “I enjoyed myself and cherished every moment.”

AOB is set to release a gospel album titled ‘Urban Hymnal,’ primarily produced by AOB assistant director Professor Larry Jenkins and two-time Grammy award-nominated writer Sir the Baptist.

Grammy award-winning songwriter and artist Dallas Austin is the executive producer of the album while it also features production from platinum recording artist, TSU alum Aaron (Dubba-AA) Lockhart.

Justin Butler, TSU New Direction Gospel Choir director described the experience of performing at the festival and being featured on AOB’s upcoming album as, ‘pretty amazing.’

TSU drum major Curtis Olawumi, right, met his all-time favorite trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, left, at Essence Fest while leaving rehearsal. (Photo: Submitted)

“We were blown away to be asked to be a part of this,” Butler said, mentioning that the choir recorded their portion of Dance Revival right on campus.

 “I can’t wait for the world to hear this,” he said.

The album release date has not been disclosed as of July, but will include features from known artist and singers such as Fred Hammond, Kierra Sheard, John P. Kee, Jekalyn Carr, Louis York, Dubba-AA, Take 6 and more.

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.